Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow day

When I was a kid, snow days were fairly hard to come by. During the school year, I lived with my parents in Michigan. Folks there don't blanche at the thought of driving in a couple of feet of the white stuff, let alone braving subzero temperatures for months on end. The only way that school was called off was if it was literally impossible for the buses to make it out of the barn. It happened once or twice each winter and oh, how I loved those days. Listening to the radio with my dad in the morning and waiting to hear if my school was one of the ones closed. Eating a leisurely braekfast. Suiting up in more layers than the kid from "A Christmas Story." Playing until I was so cold that I lost feeling in my nose and toes, and then coming inside and waiting for the burning sensation to start as I pressed my fingers to the heating grate.

The very best part of snow days, though, was curling up next to my mom on the couch and listening to her read to me while I drank hot chocolate and she sipped hot tea. My mom wasn't big on reading aloud, and she wasn't overly keen on a lot of cuddling. I have no idea why, but something about snow gave life to all the affection she kept inside every other day of the year. She would absolutely lavish me with love on those cold afternoons, and I basked in it. One winter we read through "The Long Winter." Another, it was "Alive in Wonderland." My mother would hold the book just above my head as I leaned on her lap, fingering the fringe of one of the afghans she had made. The book dipped down to reveal illustrations, then bobbed back up to resume reading. My mother's tea pot--a real, porcelain pot--was snug inside a quilted tea cozy that sat on a huge silver tray that only came out on the most formal occasions. To this day, the smell of orange rind tea takes me back to those afternoons and makes me more homesick than just about anything else.

As an adult, I spend probably more than my fair share of time with my feet tucked under me and children crowded around as I read from the throne that it my couch. I really don't need an excuse to haul out a special book, or the hot chocolate that I buy in huge containers from Costco. But give me a good snow day, boy, and I pull out all the stops. Not only do we hit the sledding hill with a vengence, but we relive that family tradition of reading time, too. We pull out every warm blanket we can find, flip on the gas fireplace, add extra marshmallows to the cocoa and luxuriate in winter. Each of my children has their own special mug, and I drink from one that has each of their names and handprints on it. We don't just stop answering the phone ... we turn it off. Family time is family time, after all!

I'm so grateful that my mother took those opportunities that she did to love me through the coldest patches of winter. And I'm equally glad that I don't have to wait for snow to do it with my own children. But that doesn't mean I appreciate those times any less.

Monday, November 20, 2006


We're involved in a ministry called Alpha. Designed to lead people to Christ, or to answer the questions of those new to faith in Him, the program runs for 10-12 weeks at a time. Last night was the final gathering of this session. Ten people were baptized. Me, I always get emotional when someone takes that leap; the most teary I've ever gotten was actually in the last session, when my best friend J. (who was, I think, 8 months pregnant at the time) was baptized. Now that was emotional!

Last night, though, all my tears were saved for the special presentation that the children perform at the end of each full Alpha session. We have a wonderful, spirited music director that teaches the children songs, handsigns and skits. This go-round, to keep things fresh (for those of us who have been through nine Alphas!) the director added in an essay component. The children were challenged to select a name of God and to write about it, backing their thoughts of with verses that spoke to them about that name.

Jo was absolutely in love with the idea of the project. Being the resourceful homeschooling mom that I am, I realized that the challenge would make a perfect writing assignment while we were out of town and she was staying with friends. Jo wrote her essay at their house, and turned it in on the evening that we picked her up. I never saw it.

So imagine my surprise when the music director called last week and let me know that Jo was the only one who had actually done the challenge. She would be presenting her essay, called "Bread of Life," at the big performance.


I could tell you all sorts of wonderful things about that performance. I could tell you how Atticus actually remembered the sign language, which was amazing given his usual stoicism on stage. I could tell you how Jo danced, with her hands spread high, without a shred of self-consciousness. I could tell you how Logan made faces and exaggerated signs the whole time, cracking me up.

But you know what got me? What really, really got me? Right before my daughter climbed down from the risers and took her place at the microphone, the projection screen over the heads of the choir lit up. There, in letters 4-feet high, was my little girl's name.

It took her maybe five seconds to walk to that microphone. She was lanky and lean, with her funky pink Converse All-Stars and her bright cherry-red glasses and the smattering of freckles on her nose that I couldn't make out in the stage lights. In that brief moment, I remembered the very first time I said her name and looked at her fat, naked little body in my arms. I remembered the taste of that name, the unfamiliar sound of it in my ears. Nearly a decade between that moment and this, and yet ... that name. Who I had wanted her to be. Who she was. Who God intended her to be. All of it, tied up in that name for me at that moment.

Of course, I was crying before she even picked up the mic. She handled herself beautifully, stumbling here and there over her own handwriting, but maintaining an enviable decorum. The words that she had written were mature beyond her years, and expressed a faith that stuns me even now. And they were hers--all hers. No word suggestions from me, no direction or form pre-decided. All her.

Like her name. And the Lord's. So much meaning tied up in just a few letters.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Curriculum development

Dh comes from a family of professional educators. I make this distinction because they make this distinction. In other words, I am not a professional educator. (If you're reading this, chances are good you're not a professional educator either. So sorry.) Professional educators spend many, many years learning about classroom management, learning styles, child development and learning outcomes. As near as I can tell, I fit that description. What I am missing is the piece of sheepskin that grants me standing in a union that can barter my salary. There's the rub, of course.

As I've mentioned before, my mil is a kindergarten teacher at a fairly elite parochial school. Fil was a teacher for 15 years before moving into the business world to bump the family from the lower middle-class to the upper middle-class rung on the social ladder. All of mil's siblings are teachers, and one of them is also married to a teacher. Dh's younger sister is a speech pathologist ... in a public school. Her husband is also professional educator.

And we ((gasp)) homeschool.

If we lived nearby, no doubt the holiday dinner conversation would be rife with long pauses and raised eyebrows. But we don't live nearby and you know, I can't say that I lose sleep over the lost opportunity for showing them the light on home education. The conversations we do engage in on the topic are enough, thanks. It's enough right now that we are begrudgingly accepted, our children are mostly pitied (for their lack of recess experiences and their inability to play BINGO against anyone but their siblings when learning phonics) and their eyes are keenly on the calendar that will tell them when Jo reaches junior high and they will no doubt put on the pressure to pry our over-protective fingers from her coattails.

Things have taken a turn for the worse recently. The climate of "don't ask, don't tell" is being challenged by my brother-in-law. I don't really know my bil all that well; his wife was only 15 when dh and I got married, and they live a life that is not only geographically removed from our own, but also philosophically foreign to us. What I do know about him is pleasant enough. He teaches high school history in a public school. He coaches wrestling. He is a raving liberal, but tends toward fiscal conservatism.

He is also, coincidentally, getting a master's degree in curriculum development.

I'm going to be honest and admit that I had no idea such a thing existed. I knew that there were specialized degrees for folks with aspirations of "education administration," ie, they want to be principals, etc. But "curriculum development"? Surely something as scattershot as public school curriculum isn't actually developed? And if it is, isn't it the textbook publishers who mostly call the shots?

Apparently, not. Learn something new every day, huh?

Bil is knee-deep in this whole curriculum development thing. He's becomes quite vocal about it. I wouldn't normally mind, but the fact is that 90% of what he is spouting flies directly in the face of what I feel education is actually about. For example, the mere fact that bil is working on curriculum for children he has never even met falls short of educational excellence as far as I'm concerned. How can you plan a course of education for someone who you know nothing about? Sure, you can generalize ... but isn't someone (probably a lot of someones) going to fall through the cracks? Bil says no--in teacher-speak, he outlines the "inter-disciplinary methods" and the "interest-driven activities" and the "outcome-based systems." That's what makes a curriculum successful, he says. That, and a degree that says you're qualified to be putting one together.

The family brushes off my stance on these things with a simple comeback: "You're not a professional educator. You don't know what you're talking about." I guess they don't realize that I have absolutely no interest in being a professional educator. I'd rather worry about child-centered methods over inter-disciplinary ones. I'm more of a "what are you interested in?" kind of gal. And I certainly don't have any outcome systems--or not any that I'd label, anyway.

I'm just a mom. A mom who spends hours looking for the books and tools that excite my children. A mom who loves her kids first, their schooling second. A mom who has a a commandment to teach written on her heart instead of hanging on her wall.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. So pass the turkey, please.